The Fascinating Coffee World in Spain
Mireia, SAI Barcelona Program Coordinator
June 1, 2017

Looking for an immersion into local life in Spain… order and enjoy a nice coffee!

How important is it to know how to order a coffee in Spain? What does coffee mean in Spanish Culture? Actually it means much more than I even thought! It means everything: a good start of the day, a warm and homey smell, a pleasure for mindfulness and the most important… a perfect way of socializing!

Solomon M - Barcelona - Fall 16

photo by Solomon Mercurio

As a local Spaniard, I grew up with the delicious coffee smell and I learned from a young age the pleasure to enjoy a nice coffee. However, after many years of experience with study abroad students and having traveled to many countries, I came to realize how meaningful the coffee culture in Spain is. Students catch on right away, when sharing the first meal together and they are asked if they would like a coffee after it. Most students, however, are not aware of the many coffee options they have. Here is a quick and short “guide” and some useful tips!

Solomon M - Barcelona - Fall 16

Cafe con hielo, by Solomon Mercurio

  1. Café con leche: coffee with milk on a cup size. The most beloved by our students. Perfect for a good start of the day. Also the most common for breakfast and even for the afternoon (5 or 6 pm).
  2. Café solo: expresso coffee. It is quite small but intense. Perfect to wake up if needed and most commonly order after a nice meal.
  3. Cortado: an expresso with a little bit of milk. Great for the morning break or after lunch if an expresso is too strong for you.
  4. Café Americano: a long coffee, much less stronger than a “café solo”. It is one shot of expresso and lots of water to make it a “café con leche” size. No milk in it!
  5. Capuccino: this is not frequent nor original from Spain, although you can find it in many places in big cities in Spain.
  6. Café con hielo: expresso coffee (with or without milk) with ice cubes. It is pretty frequent in Summer after meals or even in the afternoon/evening when meeting friends. Remember to add the sugar to the warm coffee, before pouring it into the glass with the ice cubes! Do not get confused with iced coffee from the USA.

Student Rachel Gray enjoying her coffee

A few tips

  1. Take some time to enjoy a delicious coffee in a terrace at a “plaza”.
  2. Try different ways to order coffee in Spain and decide which one you prefer for each occasion.
  3. Coffee in Spain is strong, much more than in the USA. Keep that in mind if you would like it to avoid over-caffeination! Even if small, one coffee is enough!
  4. In Spain you can order a decaf coffee from the expresso machine: “un café cortado descafeinado de máquina, por favor.” Simple?!

Welcome to the delicious Spanish coffee world!

Capuccino

A few surprising tips

  1. In Spain it is a custom to order coffee after meals (lunch or dinner).
  2. When the waiter asks about the drinks for a meal, the answer should never be “un café”, unless you want to look like a tourist or get a funny look. Coffee is reserved for after dessert, to finish the meal.
  3. “Café helado” does not exactly mean iced coffee, and waiters might not understand what you want. They might think: coffee with ice-cream? Cold coffee? There is no such concept in Spain. The closest to an iced coffee could be “granizado de café” (smashed ice with expresso coffee and sugar) or “café con hielo” (see option 6 above).
  4. Usually “café con leche” is not ordered after lunch or dinner. It is more common to order a “café solo” or “cortado”. However, you can do it without looking like a tourist.
  5. In Spain, strong flavored coffees are highly appreciated. Long watery coffees are called “agua sucia” (dirty water) by coffee fans.
  6. Any moment is good for a coffee, even after dinner, which often could be after 10 pm in Spain!

Are you ready to order YOUR coffee once you are in Barcelona? ¡Un café, por favor!

– Mireia is SAI Barcelona Program Coordinator

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About SAI

SAI is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.